Cheat Sheet: Eagles ‘D’ Vs. Cowboys Offense

Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans on field hyping crowd

If you missed the first cheat sheet, click here. Now, onto 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Cowboys’ offense.

1. The Eagles got breaks in Weeks 5 and 6, facing two of the worst-performing offenses in the NFL. But this week that changes as they face a Cowboys unit that ranks eighth, according to Football Outsiders. Dallas is second in scoring (30.5 PPG). Tony Romo and company dropped 31 on the Redskins Sunday night and put up 48 in a losing effort against the Broncos the previous week. The Eagles limited the Bucs to three points in the second half last week and came up with three interceptions in the fourth quarter against the Giants. Overall, the Eagles have the 30th-ranked defense, per Football Outsiders. They are 29th in scoring, allowing 29.8 points per game.

2. Romo is one of only three quarterbacks (Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers) who has completed better than 70 percent of his passes. Romo is at 70.2 percent and is averaging 7.8 yards per attempt (ninth). His 14 touchdowns are tied for second, and Romo has only been intercepted three times. Overall, the Cowboys’ passing offense is sixth in Football Outsiders’ rankings. The Eagles are 30th.

3. The Cowboys don’t chuck it downfield as much as you might think. Only 8.3 percent of Romo’s passes have traveled 20+ yards from the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus. That ranks 23rd. His average pass attempt travels 7.08 yards; that ranks 31st. For the most part, it’s been a short-to-intermediate, high-efficiency passing attack. That’s not great news for Billy Davis and company. The Eagles’ defense generally focuses on not letting defenders get behind them. That often leaves the intermediate throws wide-open for relatively easy completions. The Cowboys are unlikely to change their strategy. Rivers and Manning both had a lot of success with their high-efficiency passing attacks against the Eagles. Not only is it an effective way to move the ball, but it keeps the Birds’ offense off the field.

“I think one of the biggest things is we are not giving up those deep ones and that’s what one of the main goals was,” Davis said. “The intermediate ones we’ve now got to tighten down on. The ones that are getting to the 15 to the 25s, that immediate coverage ‑‑ I do believe the guys are getting a better understanding of the deep to short and coming up. And then when they do take the check-down ‑‑ again, those are in zones… if I want to take everybody, put a body on a body, I’ll go to the mans. But right now I think we are growing in the direction of getting tighter in the intermediate part of our zones and that’s what has to improve.”

4. Romo’s primary target has been Dez Bryant. He leads the team with 34 catches for 459 yards and six touchdowns. He has six grabs of 20+ yards and is tied for fifth in the NFL with five red zone catches. The previous point applies to Bryant too. Per STATS, Inc., 70.6 percent of his catches have been within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

“We face a couple of them but we’ve got to be great with our one‑on‑one matchups of both corners,” Davis said. “Fletch [Bradley Fletcher] and Cary [Williams] have to be great in their individual coverage on them because they will have ‑ you can’t double a guy every play. So they will have plenty of times where they’ve got to just handle that and we will get help to them and zone over the top of them and use all of the different tools to help when you stop a star receiver.”

5. Fletcher has been a favorite target of opposing quarterbacks. He’s produced mixed results, but overall has been better than expected with 10 passes defensed, tied for second-most in the NFL.  Williams and Bryant have a history. Last year, Bryant thought Williams should have been called for pass interference on a 2-point conversion, but didn’t get a flag when the Ravens played the Cowboys.

“He needs to step up and be a man,” Williams told reporters at the time. “You can’t be a baby about stuff. You’ve got to man up. It’s one-on-one. Mano-a-mano. I got you. Sometimes you’re going to win. Sometimes you’re going to lose.

“You’ve just got to be a man and accept responsibility, give credit where credit is due. If it was me, I’d say, you know what, he made the play and I didn’t. Bottom line. Don’t complain and look for a flag, man.”

6. The Eagles will also have to account for tight end Jason Witten. The veteran has 31 catches on 48 targets for 340 yards and three touchdowns. Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans will need to be better than they have been in coverage. Miles Austin has battled a hamstring injury, but is listed as probable. Rookie Terrance Williams has caught 18 of 21 passes thrown his way. He’s a big-play threat, averaging 17.2 yards per reception. Overall, opponents are completing 63.9 percent of their passes against the Eagles (21st) and averaging 7.5 yards per attempt (21st). The Birds have allowed 13 touchdown passes, tied for fourth-most. And despite the focus on not allowing the deep ball, they have given up 23 pass plays of 20+ yards, tied for fifth-most. Nickel corner Brandon Boykin has been playing lights-out, and Davis only sent him on a blitz once last week. Nate Allen had one of his better games of the season vs. Tampa, and Earl Wolff continues to be up and down. Patrick Chung is doubtful after re-aggravating his shoulder injury last week.

7. One of the biggest factors in the Cowboys’ success offensively has been their offensive line. Trent Cole has no sacks and three hurries. He’ll get matched up against left tackle Tyron Smith.

“I think Trent will have a breakout game and you’ll see the work that he’s put in and I think that will happen with our defensive line in general,” Davis said. “I think we are getting close.  We’ve had a couple games in a row with intentional groundings and different interceptions. Again, it’s a quarterback’s choice when I’m under duress: Do I throw it away, do I throw it into coverage, or do I take the sack?  And right now, quarterbacks are choosing the other, but those sacks will come. I think the guys are getting closer and closer.”

Fletcher Cox had his best game of the season against Tampa with five QB hurries. The Eagles need him to build on that performance this week. Cedric Thornton continues to play well. And Vinny Curry played a season-high 25 snaps last week. The Eagles moved to a four-down nickel look last week. Given how much the Cowboys pass, look for that to continue this week. Dallas also added first-round pick Travis Frederick at center and free agent Brian Waters at right guard.

8. One thing the Eagles have going for them is that Dallas is a one-dimensional offense. That one dimension is really good, but the Cowboys are unlikely to do much on the ground. They are averaging 20.3 rushing attempts per game (28th) and will likely be without DeMarco Murray (doubtful). Rookie Joseph Randle, a fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma State, is likely to start. He has 11 carries for 17 yards. Overall, the Cowboys are 12th in rushing, per Football Outsiders. The Eagles have been 16th against the run. Opponents are averaging 4.0 yards per carry against the Eagles (tied for 17th). According to stats tracked by coaches, Ryans has been in on 73 tackles; that’s 25 more than any other Eagles defender. STATS, Inc. tracks impact tackles, which are stops made within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage. Ryans has eight, tied for fourth in the league.

9. Eagles coaches have stressed finishing to the defense this week. Romo is a master at extending plays and keeping his eyes downfield. When pass-rushers have a chance to bring him down, they must do so. And defensive backs have to be ready for receivers adjusting their routes when Romo starts scrambling.

“It really comes down, when you study him over time, he’s either really hot or really off, and sometimes it’s through the course of one single game,” Davis said. “He may be first-half hot, second-half cold and vice-versa. You have to play him all the way through four quarters.

“I think you’ve got to challenge the receivers and challenge him to find the opening and keep moving it on him. I think he’ll make some plays and I think he’ll make some mistakes.”

10. The Eagles have forced three-and-outs 15.7 percent of the time (30th), per Football Outsiders. …The Cowboys are fourth in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 65.2 percent of the time. The Eagles are 21st in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns 59.1 percent of the time. …The Cowboys are 11th in third-down offense, converting 39.1 percent of the time. The Eagles are 27th, allowing conversions 43.0 percent of the time.

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  • G_WallyHunter


    Eagles are 30th in what? Am I missing something there? 30th in pass D? I assume so.

  • Media Mike

    The Eagles need to do three things:
    – limit yardage by a garbage backup RB
    – limit YAC (I expect the Cowboys to score points and gain yards through the air, a repeat of the non-D vs. San Diego and KC is unacceptable, just wrap up and make the Cowboys have to score using longer drives that require multiple pass attempts by Romo because of……….)
    – capitalize on Romo mistakes (Romo will gift wrap INTs, we just need to not drop them)

    • G_WallyHunter

      I would kill to see a 4th quarter pick in dying minutes by the one and only (H)Romo…. Hopefully he gives Fletch the INT he deserves..

      • Media Mike

        Lito (I think) got Romo that way in the 2006 game.

        • G_WallyHunter

          Lito or Sheldon, believe that

    • Jason

      I’m going to assume you mean Denver and not KC. The defense didn’t turn the ball over 5 times against KC. That game wasn’t on them.
      Otherwise, I completely agree

  • Richard Colton

    Some defensive trends I like:
    1) Curry getting more snaps every game
    2) Boykin’s blitzes cut in half in three consecutive weeks
    3) Wolff’s play getting better over time
    4) Patrick Chungdoubtful getting less PT

    • Token

      I cant figure out what you gain by playing Chung over Wolff.

      Not that I think Wolff is good, but neither is Chung. Another case of if you arent losing any ground, play the young guy over the bum FA signing.

      • anon

        Chung has a useful skill set. He can play in the box and in the slot. He’s not a great “free” safety but he’s the best we have on the team. Wolff has athleticism to be great.

        • Token

          Then sit Allen for him. What is gained by sitting Wolff? I just hate this scenario that pops up on this team.

          Allen sucks, hes never going to not suck. Plus hes gone next year. Chung is just a guy.

          While Wolff is nothing great at this point, hes at least not hurting you any more or any less than Allen or Chung would. Play the youth in that case.

          • Richard Colton

            Nasty Nate had his best game of the season last week and Wolff’s been cutting down on those bad angles and mental errors. Hoping they can get better – but you’re right, neither one would make me lament a first round safety in April.

            How’s Earl Thomas doing by the way?

          • GEAGLE

            Don’t you mean..”Not so nasty” Nate? I’m confused, did I miss something? Lol

          • Richard Colton

            come on John, “Nasty Nate and the Wolff” sounds like an ’80s sitcom. Less than 24 hours before the show begins!!!!

          • GEAGLE

            It’s Not so nasty Nate and Hungry like a Wooooolff!!!

          • G_WallyHunter

            Chung and Curry sounds like some weird Asian/Indian dish… hungry for some of that tomorrow? (minus the Chung)

          • GEAGLE

            If it were up to me, we would be starting Chung and Wolff, with Chung playing in the box as much as possible, and Nate coming in when we go with 3 safety look….I’d rather watch Chungers aggressive mistakes, then Nates passive/scared mistakes,,,Chunger for all his flaws is also more likely to make a BIGTIME game changing play then Nate. Neither is remotely close to being a starting playmaker that we need but if you hold a gun to my head and force me to pick who is more likely to force a fumble or an INT, I wouldn’t hesitate to chose Chunger over Nate

          • G_WallyHunter

            I believe Earl is still doing what he does best. He’s over in Seattle right? Their D is doing ok…
            Oh ya Earl? Ya he has 5 interceptions… he’s ok..

            But hey, Brandon Graham’s pretty awesome, right?

          • Token

            O, hes just in the conversation of best safety in the game. But hey, we got Brandon Graham………

          • JofreyRice

            I know you’re a fan of Vaccaro, but do you see the way Ryan uses him? Just awesome. Nickel Cornerback, blitzing from the slot, deep free safety. Thomas is a better pure centerfielder, but in 2 or 3 years time, I think Vaccaro could be a better overall defender. I think having a really good safety you can move around like that affects the entire D, and I don’t think KV is a small factor in the turnaround of that defense.

          • Token

            Yea preaching to the choir. Its frustrating. Two high impact players passed on. In return for Brandon Graham and Lane Johnson.

            Hope that Lane is ready to step in at LT next year. I think they will move on from Peters.

            Side thought…. You are quite familiar with Kendricks. Threw out the idea of him at OLB the other day. Could he play there? Size is a issue especially for Kelly. I was trying to think if theres anywhere he could fit besides backup ILB next year.

          • JofreyRice

            Probably could have had Rob and Kenny! We passed on Rob twice, once in favor of Juan Castillo and once for Bill “The Incompetent” Davis.

            Just doesn’t seem like the FO cares much about safety. I really think it is to the detriment of the defense in today’s NFL, but we shall see.

          • anon

            nahh chung is better, allen and wolff split i think its the right rotation. if we were 1-5 i’d agree. but you can learn a lot by watching.

  • BlindChow

    It looks like another infuriating day of the opposing team moving up and down the field against are soft zones.

    It strikes me as odd that as easy as it’s been for us to move the ball against teams playing soft zone coverage, Kelly doesn’t see that the reverse is true about our defense. Maybe he just doesn’t care, but it would be great if he mandated Davis tighten things up a bit.

    • JofreyRice

      If he tightens things up, I think that’s going to expose the horrible safety play. I think coming into this season, they must have looked at all the big plays teams have had against us in the past two years, and said “OK, we’ll take a slow bleed over getting limbs lopped off”. I doubt we’ll see anything but off coverage and sissy soft zones until we get a safety they trust.

  • G_WallyHunter

    Troy Aikman’s a “big” fan of Chip Kelly !!!!
    he wishes he could have played in a system similar to Kelly’s lol

  • Basically Romo is set to pull a Manning or Rivers on us. Got it. Our D has yet to show they can do much about that. I’m not so sure I believe it’s going to start this week.

    • JofreyRice

      Don’t know why you’re getting downvotes for this comment, I think it’s a pretty realistic view of the situation.

      I think Tim believes the Eagles might be in the hunt to land Byrd in the offseason. Add him, and a lanky OLB to pressure the pocket from the outside, and I think you may have something. I’d still like to see the corners press more, but they can’t do that with the S’s as bad as they are–too risky.

      No matter how rosy your outlook is, the D is nowhere near it needs to be, as far as making the team a legit contender. I guess the bright side is, Kelly’s coaching and system have allowed us to start realistically thinking about being a legit contender again–something that wasn’t possible with Reid.

      • GEAGLE

        Sign Jarius Byrd and BJ Raji

        Draft Barr to play opposite of Barwin..since teams at the top of the draft should be fighting over QBs and OTs, add In Clowney, and Barr should drop back to a range that we can move up to snag him without giving up the entire farm…
        Those 3 players would make all our complimentary players look better…If we invest in 3 quality defenders, it gives us the ability for Kelly to continue and add to the offense…
        The original thought was draft all defenders in 2014…but the offense clearly still needs players, so we won’t be able to just focus all our resources on building a defense,,,but if you add the right 3 defenders, it leaves a lot of quality resources to improve the offense

  • Az eagle

    Beat the cowgirls!!


    This defense is coming together like I always maintained they would…

    People are dumb to think players come together overnight…just listen to what a stud LB in Lance BRiggs talked about…he spoke on how he had a decade of continuity with LB Urlacker, and now he has to build a new chemistry with Chicagos new LBs, and that chemistry isn’t going to happen overnight…a new scheme takes time to learn, and when you add so many new players, more patience has to be required…We aren’t a top defense, and we won’t be this year…but by the end of the year we will all be feeling good with the direction our defense is headed…The defense is a batman or two(safety, OLB) and some continuity away from getting back where we need them to be…

    Sunday won’t be a dominant defense performance. we will play well, but it’s going to be an up and down game, they won’t quit, they will continue to battle, and I. Expect Folesy to keep us in the game…and if you keep up with Romo, there is a good chance he will crack late in the game and our defense will come up with a play late that gives us a chance to put the dirty stinking Cowboys away!!

    Can’t wait to watch the fiery sconces battle against our hated rival!!!
    Hoping Meco dishes out the punishing hits he dished out last week…like to see Vinny, Ertz, Wolff, Graham’s snaps continue to increase


    get ready for another nice performance from Riley Cooper, and another step in the right direction for ERTZY-pooh…..

    There isn’t enough Tylenol PM in the world to make Monte kiffin get a good nights sleep tonight lol.. By tomorrow night, the poor old man will be wishing they still made Qualudes..


    After suffering thru “the aloof one” aka DRC and “He who just points, and eats lunch alone in his car”….even if it’s going to be a rough day, I will shed tears of Joy watching B dot Fletch and the fiery sconces claw, scratch and fight Dez Bryant for 60 minutes…. Have a feeling this game will be a war! our defense will have some tough moments tomorrow, but I also expect them to look like a ferocious and possessed group of defenders at some point in tomorrow’s game…laugh and joke about Billy D all to want, but we are continuing to progress..
    You know how you know if you have good coaches? If your team plays it’s best ball in December…I do Genuinly believe we are headed in that direction!!!